The Second Department, reversing defendant’s conviction, determined: (1) based upon his right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him, the defendant should have been present during the judge’s in camera interview with the complainant in this statutory rape case to determine the relevance of her psychiatric history (a material stage of this proceeding); (2) the defendant’s statement for which no CPL 710.30 notice was provided should not have been admitted on that ground; and (3) that same statement should not have been admitted as “Molineux” evidence of intent, motive or lack of mistake because such evidence is not relevant to statutory rape:
The right of an accused to confront the witnesses against him or her through cross-examination is a fundamental right of constitutional dimension … . The right of cross-examination is an essential safeguard of fact-finding accuracy and “the principal means by which the believability of a witness and the truth of his testimony are tested” … .
Where a primary prosecution witness is shown to suffer from a psychiatric condition, the defense is entitled to show that the witness’s capacity to perceive and recall events was impaired by that condition … .
In this case, the defendant’s absence during the Supreme Court’s in camera interview with the complainant to determine if her psychiatric history was relevant had a substantial effect on his ability to defend the charges against him, and thus, the interview constituted a material stage of the trial for which the defendant should have been present … . Where, as here, the “defendant was absent during a material part of his trial, harmless error analysis is not appropriate,” and a new trial is required … . Moreover, while the scope of cross-examination generally rests within the trial court’s discretion … , here, the court improvidently exercised its discretion in striking the complainant’s testimony adduced during cross-examination with respect to her psychiatric history. People v King, 2021 NY Slip Op 01996, Second Dept 3-31-21